jamming

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Instead of blogging about last night's Tip Jar Jam (wonderful though it was with Kathy H, Kristina, Heather, and David), I thought I would share some thoughts from our second Women's Banjo Camp, which was totally amazing. We're already looking forward to next year, July 24-26, 2015.

Women's Banjo Campers 2014

Women's Banjo Campers 2014 (Thanks to Peggy for the photo!)

Michigan Sue, who also attended our Beginning Banjo Camp last fall, thoughtfully provided me with today's title. Sue has made a lot of progress in the nine months since "Baby Banjo Camp" and I congratulated her on it. Whereupon she uttered this amazing sentence: "It finally dawned on me to start listening to bluegrass! It's made a huge difference." I thought that was profound so I grabbed a marker and wrote it down. Another woman added that she had been listening to bluegrass on Sirius Radio in the car "all the time" and pointed out, "It soaks into you!" Indeed it does! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

(The title references a tongue-in-cheek torch song, Pink Toenails, from an early Dixie Chicks album, Little Ol’ Cowgirl [1992]. In my book I called it the best song on the disc.)

First off: Grandson Dalton said the name of his first banjo tune today! Was it Cripple Creek? Boil Them Cabbage? Old Joe Clark? No, he's apparently more into Ralph...

Here's the story: We were sitting on the couch this morning watching "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child" DVDs. (Huge shout out to these re-visioned old favorites. They are multi-cultural and sometimes gender-flipped. For example our first DVD was "Robinita Hood and her Band of Merry Chicas!") While I was drinking my first cuppa, he was barking out orders --"Take out the yellow one, put in the blue one!"-- and, in the manner of three-year-olds everywhere, picking his nose. I looked over at him inquisitively and he looked right back and said, "Big Booger." Which is the name of one of Ralph Stanley's banjo tunes! Fortunately Dalton's mother, Casey, is a Ralph freak and it is with her kind permission that I bring you this cute tale. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

We were cooking last night! With four banjos (Ben, Kasey, Dan, Kathy G) and three guitars (Bobby, Diane, and moi), we explored several new singing songs and had a religious experience with rhythm!

One of the new singing songs was When The Roses Bloom Again Beside The River, which Bobby brought to his lesson and I incorporated into the jam. Originally done by the Carter Family (as far as I know), the song was written in 1901. (Google: words by Will D. Cobb, music by Jeff Tweedy. Will D. Cobb also wrote that great song School Days which has that line "reading, and writing, and 'rithmetic".) I tell you all that because I'm constantly ragging Bobby that this song is a "Tin Pan Alley song," written by a songwriter in New York City. I didn't know that songwriter was Will Cobb, but I could tell from the lyrics (cliches such as "rattle of the battle" and "strolling in the gloaming") that it didn't come from the pen of Bill Monroe or Hazel Dickens!  As the great historian Bill Malone wrote when talking about the songs in the country music repertoire, "The country folk didn't care where a song came from, as long as it was a good song." Who knows where A.P. Carter found this song, but it was found, recorded, and thus preserved. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Since we had 9 folks at the Tuesday jam, I wasn't expecting a big crowd on Wednesday, but durned if 6 students didn't turn up. This time we had two banjos, three guitars, and one mandolin. Gregg, on banjo, had just taken his first lesson from me so he mostly vamped. Amber is just starting on mandolin and said she preferred not to try any of the breaks she's learned so she chopped and helped out on the harmony singing. Jason, also, is sticking with rhythm guitar for now. Gregg did consent to playing the two tunes he knew, Cripple Creek and Boil Them Cabbage, which differ slightly from my versions. No matter. We played them really slow, as we do for every new student, and Gregg has such good timing that he came through with flying colors! On to Banjo In The Hollow!

Bob A put in his best performance ever last night, both with his guitar picking and his singing. He was having to do a LOT of singing, because he was the only one there who could sing in G! So he sang Your Love Is Like A Flower, Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms, Long Journey Home, East Virginia Blues (in C), and Wreck of the Old 97 (in A). As I've told you before, when Bob came to me for guitar lessons, three years ago, he didn't think he could sing. In fact, he'd been told--repeatedly--that he couldn't sing. But he did know the words to lots of bluegrass songs and he has worked hard on hid singing and, by Jove, I think he's getting it! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Gotta be a quickie this morning. I've gotta have what's called a "yag" done on my left eye. Short explanation: I had cataract surgery done a little over a year ago, and a membrane has grown back somewhere in there which makes it hard for me to drive at night. So, the doc is removing it with a laser. I had my right eye done last week, and it was a piece of cake, so hope this one will go well, also. I don't even need anyone to drive me home!

We had a whopping nine people at the jam last night! Six banjos--Doug, Ben (welcome back!), Scott, Batty Betty, Kathy G, Kasey (ditto!)--along with Bobby and Janet on guitars and Kenney on bass. Batty Betty acquired that nickname right now, since I object to Bobby's new nickname for her, which is Queenie. (As in Queen of sucking up to me!) Bobby was doing some of his own sucking up yesterday on the phone. The problem is, when people say all these nice things about me to me I don't hear it as sucking up, I just hear it as them stating the facts. (!!!) So, that's what I was hearing from Bobby--he was saying he thought I had mellowed some down through the years. He's the one who called it sucking up and said, "Don't tell Betty." I told him, truthfully, I never thought of that. But since he mentioned it, naturally, I'd have to tell the world! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Since the subject of this blog is family, I'll share this picture to start with. I took it to send to Ben who's been at the beach for the last week with all his kids and grandkids. He says he's been practicing banjo every day!

Kenney, Betty, Janet, Bobby

Kenney, Betty, Janet, Bobby

You know, the more we jam, the more we become like one, big happy family, complete with sniping. Before we even got started last night Bobby was ragging Betty about being a "suck up" for saying all those nice things about me in the blog. I told Bobby that somebody had to make up for all the grief he gives me and that I loved the comments. I said I couldn't get enough of them. So when Val posted a comment today about Kaufman Kamp saying, "What an honor to have your guidance. Thank you for another amazing week. You are an inspiration!" naturally I had to text that to Betty and Bobby! (Thanks, Val. Your singing was pretty amazing too!) Betty responded thusly: "Ha, ha. I hope he doesn't have that person's contact info." I haven't heard from Bobby yet, but I'll see him this afternoon for his lesson... ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Bass players are the unsung heroes of jam sessions. (Couldn't find an gender-neutral word that worked there....) Tuesday night Kenney did an especially good job of "putting the bottom in the band," as we say. First of all, at his lesson right before the jam, he had played Amazing Grace and Farther Along almost flawlessly. Three-quarter (3/4) time--also called "waltz time" or "boom-chuck-chuck" time--can be tricky because it's so slow. On the bass the notes seem interminable, with large spaces in between. The count is "ONE, two, three; ONE, two, three..." and you play a note only on the "ONE" and there is silence on the "two, three." So, it's easy to lose track on the chord progression. But Kenney is a-gettin' 'er, as we say here.

But at the Tuesday night jam, for whatever reason, we didn't get to either of these songs. Still, Kenney outdid himself on the other songs, which is to say, he played so well we didn't even notice him--high praise for a bass player! (You can see why I was never satisfied being a bass player!) He didn't even bat an eye or make a peep when I chose to sing I Saw The Light in the key of A. (We normally do it in C or G.) When the song was over, I meant to compliment Kenney but I got distracted and forgot. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Is this a perfect title, or what? Of course, it will only have resonance or poignancy if you know the song. Irregardless (as we say here in the Valley when we can't decide between "irrespective" and "regardless"!), are these not the cutest little boys you have ever seen? (Of course, all little kids are adorable, I just happen to be partial to these because they are holding a fiddle and a banjo!)

Two Little Boys: Reece and Drew

Two Little Boys: Rhys and Drew

Brothers Drew and Rhys have been to the jam before, but not in a while and they have obviously been practicing! Drew takes from Casey and Rhys takes from David McLaughlin. I've asked David to show Rhys a lot of the tunes that we are playing in the jam, and David has obliged so Rhys now plays Banjo In The Hollow, Cripple Creek, Cumberland Gap, and Foggy Mountain Breakdown in addition to some of the singing songs. Drew can play all the tunes on Beginning Banjo Volume 1, all the Misfit tunes, and will start work on Old Joe Clark next. Both boys keep excellent time and can play their tunes both slow and fast. ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Last night we welcomed Kristina and her mandolin back to the jam. It's been a while since we've had heard her steady chop which is always a nice addition to the rhythm section. Ben, on bass, supplied the downbeat, Kathy G, Dan, and Kasey (looking Pretty in Pink) tickled the fives, and Bob and Diane played lead guitars.

With this combination of players we were able to stretch out and play Soldier's Joy in D since Kasey and Dan play it on banjo, Kristina plays it on mandolin, and Bob plays it on guitar. To play Earl Scruggs' version of Soldier's Joy, which is what we teach, you have to tune the fourth string of the banjo down two frets AND capo all the strings up two frets, which of course causes major retuning problems. Therefore it's always a good idea to play other D tunes once you've gone to all that trouble! So Kasey and Dan also played Liberty. (Kasey can also play Arkansas Traveler, so better start working on that, Dan!) Then, in the interest of minimizing tuning problems we went to A, which meant we were still capoed two, but were now playing in G position. All the banjo players had to do was pull the fourth string up to the correct note which was E. I'm sure that is clear as mud! ...continue reading

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

Just when I was thinking that we'd have the same folks for the Tip Jar Jam that we had last Tuesday (Janet, Kenney, Doug, Betty) in walks Bob Mc. He was here for his last jam before he heads back to Florida. I was going to call him a "snowbird" but he actually lives down there full time now. He just came back for our Apple Blossom Festival. 

Betty, bless her heart, had a terrible case of laryngitis and literally could not talk. We used hand signals to decide which tunes she would play. At one point, I said, "Hold up one finger if you want to play Worried Gal and hold up two fingers if you want to play Two Dollar Bill." She held up one finger but it wasn't the finger I was expecting! She got the message across! She is eloquent even when she can't speak aloud.  ...continue reading